What to Do When You Lose Your Job

Two years ago, I lost my job as a Human Resources Coordinator. It couldn’t have come at a worse time: I was dealing with the loss of someone close to me, and had just closed on my first home – move-in day was scheduled for six days later. To make it worse, I loved my job. All of a sudden, I was unemployed.

I could have looked for someone to blame or confined myself to my bed, depressed. Instead, I resolved that nothing would cause me to lose the house I had worked so hard to buy. I devoted everything I had to my job search – and started my new position 5 weeks later.

Based on my personal experience and experiences with candidates, here are some things to keep in mind if you suddenly find yourself out of work:

1. Your job does not define who you are. Since we spend so much of our time with work, our jobs tend to become intertwined with our self worth. Without a job, we feel lost, without a sense of purpose. Remember that you are a person with core competencies that you can take with you to another position.  Also, remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is only a very small part of your life – a temporary setback.

2. Let your emotions run their course. You will grieve the loss of your job as you would any loss. Don’t be surprised to feel denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately, acceptance. Remember that it is up to you whether you want to discuss details – if you don’t, then simply tell those who ask that it’s personal.

3. Decide on a course of action. Evaluate your personal finances to determine if you need to find your next job right away.  If you don’t have a formal degree, would it fit into your life to go back to college or trade school? The unemployment percentage is much lower for workers with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. Will you look for the same type of job in the same industry, or is a point where you could consider a career change? Think about what companies you have always wanted to work at. Target those companies.

4. You may have to reconsider your expectations.  Your next job does not have to be the job you stay in for the rest of your life – it may be a stepping stone. However, when interviewing, you should be genuinely interested in the position. Focus on what you can learn from a new environment, as well as how you can contribute to the company as an expert if you were previously at a higher level.

What you are willing to settle for depends on what type of lifestyle you lead. If you need a paycheck to put food on the table, you may have to reconsider the type of work or salary that you are willing to consider. If you were previously working in a management role, you may consider a staff level position. If you were in direct hire position, you may consider contract work. Most importantly, if you spent many years with your previous employer, you will not be able to expect the same salary and benefit package from day 1 at a new employer.

5. Swallow your pride. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. This may include asking friends or recruiters to assist in revising your resume, applying for state assistance benefits, or simply asking a friend to listen. In today’s world, a large percentage of your network has experienced the same feelings you are going through.

6. Remember that unemployment doesn’t last forever. Too often we hear candidates say, “I’d rather not lower myself to that type of work/that level of pay. I’m better off staying on unemployment.” With the cuts in unemployment extensions, unemployment benefits are limited. Plus, companies tend to frown on large gaps between jobs – the longer you are unemployed, the harder it will be to find a position. Further, it may be difficult to get used to the workplace again after a long break. It is better to start your search now than to scramble as your benefits run out.

7. Don’t expect a job to find you – it takes active work to find a job. It is great to post your resume on job boards for recruiters to find. You should actively apply for jobs, and follow up via phone on the status of your application. However, 60-80% of jobs are found through networking. Get out there and talk to previous colleagues, managers,  friends and family. Join industry groups if you have not already, both in person and on LinkedIn. Make sure everyone knows that you are looking.  Personally, I found my new role by networking with a former colleague who had worked at Adecco in the past.

8. Keep busy and keep your technical skills up to date. With 40+ hours per week on your hands, you will likely feel restless. Think about the things you have always wanted to do, and take this time to do it. Having too much time on your hands could lead you to feel sad, lonely or at a loss. Worst of all, it may be hard for you to return to a schedule when you do find a job. Instead, pursue a goal or hobby that will better your life and remind you what you are capable of. Myself, I got heavily involved in jujitsu, kickboxing and muay thai – and lost 40 pounds in the process.

9. Don’t place blame – and don’t burn bridges. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is that you lost your job in the long run. Playing the blame game will get you nowhere, whether you are blaming your former employer or yourself. Focus on the future and accept that what is done is done. Maintain a good relationship with your previous employer if possible – you may need them as a reference. If you were in the wrong, apologize and move on.

10. Reevaluate your ways when you do find a job. If there were concrete reasons that led to you losing your last job, evaluate your weaknesses (both technical skills and soft skills) and work to improve them. You don’t want to find yourself in the same situation again if it can be avoided.